Small backup harddisks

Posted on 6 June 2012


For a few years now, I have been using the really nice Western Digital My Passport Essential SE disks, USB 2.0 with 5400 rpm and 32 MB, 500 GB’s (110x83x15 mm) or 750 GB’s (the 750+ are a bit thicker). It is small, light, uses standard mini-USB cables (like mobile phones), has rounded corners and is bus-powered. So it is really easy to use, compared to 3,5″ drives that need custom cables and a power adapter. Now they even have 1 TB versions with USB 3.0. But I wanted 1,5 TB.

Western Digital

I found that WD also have a My Passport (no essential, 111x62x15 mm), which goes up to 2 TB (again, a bit thicker: 22 mm). The main difference seems to be the shape: that the Essential has a nice rounded shape. There might be more, but I couldn’t find other differences.

These are all great harddisks, I used them after disabling the built-in CD-rom (using their VCD manager) partition. But later on I found that I really liked the encryption which is said to be unbreakable. So I turned the VCD back on, as it seems the only way to use it. Then I found that some of the drives (for instance the WD My Passport 071A Media 500 GB drive) didn’t come with a VCD so no built-in encryption. I can’t even set up this drive using the WD Smartware.

I have never had any problems with these drives. Apart from the really small mini-USB plug that is not made for use with a laptop. You want to make sure the disk is not touched at all. It seems to get looser the longer you use it.

So it’s time for something else. Also because my MacPro and my MBP do not have USB 3 and I really need some more speed, I would like to have a solution with FW800.


I’ve had a lot of Lacie harddisks. They look very professional, but I found that they really are not that fast. Even though I have never had real problems with it, I found that it is not the most reliable brand out there. So Lacie was not an option for me.


Enter Seagate. I knew that Seagate and WD are known as being very reliable. I also found that Seagate has a 1,5 TB 2,5″ external harddisk for sale. The GoFlex ultra-portable. GoFlex is their nice system that uses a USM (SATA-II?) connector to connect all sorts of port-converters: USB, FireWire, ESATA, Thunderbolt. Nice! They also have NFTS drivers for MAC (they come free with their ‘normal’ drives) and HFS+ drivers for PC (the come with their mac labeled drives). And there is a  simple mediaplayer / gigabit GoFlex NET device that takes two of these drives and connects them to your TV or network.

Then came the confusion. There is the FreeAgent Go name. I guess it is an old name and has been replaced by GoFlex. They also are not very clear about drive speed, buffer size and on top of that there are about eight different kinds of portable GoFlex drives:

  • Ultraportable (ST AA). This is 125x84x15 mm (up to 500GB) or 134x89x22 mm (750+ GB). It is formatted for windows but you can reformat it to use it with timemachine on apple. As far as I could see it goes up to 1,5 GB and all are 5400 rpm, 8 MB buffer. Comes with USB 2 or USB3.
  • Ultraportable for mac (ST BA). These are the same, but silver and formatted for mac. Goes up to 750 GB at 5400 RPM and comes with a USB 2 and FW800 connector;
  • Ultraportable Pro for mac (ST BB). The same, but 7200 RPM, comes with USB2 and FW800 connector.
  • Performance, ultraslim, They should be smaller and/or smaller (124x78x9 mm) but also have less storage space. Some of these could have a 32 MB buffer size!?

I really liked the idea of their their mac<->pc drivers and their interface adapters. It could give a good interface on the drive side and go to a very reliable connector like FW800 on the computer side. On the other hand, it adds an extra device which could be lost or forgotten.

Then I got a call from my store, they couldn’t deliver the FW800 adapter that I’ve ordered and they couldn’t get it anywhere. I tried to find it myself, but it really seems to be EOL. On my search for the adapter I found some reviews and started doubting about my choice. Loose connections, hot and melting devices, lost data… I wasn’t sure anymore.

I got a good deal on the 500 GB ST BB that comes with a FW800 connector. I’ve been using it for months now and I have to say that I am very happy. It doesn’t get too hot, connections are really well designed and speed is great.


The drives come with some software. The windows  version has seagate dashboard, it’s an interface that points to the Memeo instant backup software and a lot of reminders to buy extra memeo products. I don’t like that, I’ve already paid for the drive and don’t feel like installing software with the sole purpose of selling me more stuff. The HFS+ driver that is on the disk is great: it enables reading and writing of all mac formatted disks!

The mac version has seagate diagnostics (which can disable the status light and the sleep function, so the drive follows the macOS sleep settings), a storage gauge and again the memeo backup software. They also bring storage drivers, which is the patagon NTFS for mac 8.0 software. I’m tested it on os 10.5.8 but found that there are some file errors, but this might have been my messed up operating system. I need more testing of the NTFS drivers to be sure if I like them or not.

1,5 TB STAA drive: 5400 or 7200 RPM?

The 1,5TB is reported to be 5400 RPM by some shops, but 7200 RPM by others (like mine):

I performed a little speed test, these are the results:
500GB STBB 7200 RPM:  55 MB/s write / 75 MB/s read
1500GB STAA ??? RPM: 55 MB/s write / 65 MB/s read
This is with the FW800 connector, the speeds drop to 50% when I use the USB connector. If I test a Lacie Rugged 500 GB drive over FW 800 I get: 68 MB/s write / 75 MB/s read speed.

So what is it? A 7200 or 5400 RPM drive. I could not find any way to see it through software. I tried to open it up but got stuck halfway. Help anyone?

Posted in: MacOS/Apple, WinXP/PC